April 2007 - Vol. 7

Where's the Joy?

We can't avoid every difficulty and trial, but we can find true joy.

by Bruce Yocum

Is this life a “vale of tears”?
A while ago, I read a chance remark made by Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo of Nicaragua, and it set me thinking. Cardinal Obando was asked about the many kidnapping attempts made against him, and whether they made him fear for his life. His reply was, “I will stay here on earth and serve as long as God sees fit to keep me here to do penance for my sins,” or words to that effect.

What a remarkable contrast with the view of life many people have today! So many of us assume—almost without reflecting upon it clearly—that our life is supposed to be filled with present-day happiness and fulfillment. And if it is not, then something must be wrong, and we have to go about finding the cure for the problem.

Now, I grew up as a Catholic in an era filled with nuns (who did not look very happy) telling me in so many words that I should not really expect to be happy living as a Christian because, after all, this life is a “vale of tears.”

(I knew the expression “vale of tears” long before I knew what a “vale” was, and consequently spent a lot of time trying to manufacture a suitable image to go with the words “vale of tears.” Mainly I tried to create something connected with the veils that women always wore in church back then. The result of these attempts was highly unsatisfactory but the expression “vale of tears” stuck with me because it has a poetic ring to it.)

By the time I got to the university I was in the market for something happier than a vale of tears, so I began to explore versions of Marxism, libertarianism, and so forth.

Christian life as a life of joy
To my astonishment, I discovered real joy and happiness—not in my new isms, but in Christianity!

When I was baptized in the Spirit, I encountered joy so profound and so abundant that my natural shyness was overcome, and I even began to tell perfect strangers about the gospel. This was so good they had to hear about it! Sorrow and drudgery were washed away, and I lived my daily life in the knowledge and the presence of God.

The old “vale of tears” Christianity had gotten it all wrong; daily Christian living was a joy.

That was 38 years ago, and in the time since then I have had to ponder again the truth of living in a vale of tears.

Have I lost the gift that God gave me when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit? Am I no longer a true charismatic because my life has been filled with sorrow and disappointment as well as with joy? Is Cardinal Obando not living a genuine joy-filled life? Where lies the truth? What is it right to expect out of a full and living Christian faith?

Certainly both Jesus and Paul call us to expect sorrow and trial. Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.” Or again he said, “The gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to eternal life.”

Paul tells us that “it is through many tribulations that we must enter the Kingdom of God.” And he says that “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Yet both Jesus and Paul tell us that the Christian life is a life of’ joy. Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” And Paul calls us to “rejoice always.”

The source of true joy in the midst of trials and sorrow
I have often meditated on a song written hundreds of years ago by St. Bernard of Cluny:

Brief life is here our portion, 
brief sorrow, short-lived care; 
the life that knows no ending, 
the tearless life is there.
It is the contrast between the brief, passing difficulties of this life and the endless and complete joy of life with God after this life has passed that is the source of Bernard’s joy. He expects trial here:
And now we fight the battle... 
and now we watch and struggle. 
But he awaits the final victory of God’s grace and love over the trials and sorrows of this life:
But he whom now we trust in 
shall then be seen and known, 
and they that know and see him 
shall have him for their own. 
The morning shall awaken, 
the shadows shall decay, 
and each true-hearted servant 
shall shine as does the day.
But is this not simply a retreat to the “vale of tears” view of life here on earth? Is this not simply a reluctant admission that what we experience in being baptized in the Spirit is nice, but an inadequate answer to the trials of life?

No. Not for Bernard of Cluny, and not for me. I said before that it is the contrast between the brief trials of this life and the everlasting joy of God’s presence in the life to come that is the source of Bernard’s joy—the source of his joy here, in this life.

Just as it was the source of Francis of Assisi’s joy, of Dominic, and Thomas Aquinas, Charles Wesley, and Amy Carmichael, and every other saint’s joy. Just as it was and is the source of joy for every man, woman and child who knows God and believes in his promise.

Faith rooted in the personal knowledge of God
When I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, God gave me faith, faith rooted in a direct and personal knowledge of the one in whom I placed my faith. That faith, as the Letter to the Hebrews says is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things to come.” By faith, rooted in the personal knowledge of God, we, like the saints of old, can “conquer kingdoms... receive promises... win strength out of weakness.” Through faith we are, as Paul says, “more than conquerors.”

This life will present us with many challenges, sorrows, trials, grief, and losses. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit will not spare us those. But the living, personal knowledge of God that we have received through being baptized in the Spirit will enable us to face them, endure them, and ultimately triumph over them. And now in the midst of trial, we can sing with Bernard of Cluny:

There God, our King and portion,
in fullness of his grace, 
shall we behold forever, 
and worship face-to-face. 
Jesus, in your mercy 
bring us to that dear land of rest 
who art with God the Father 
and Spirit ever blessed.
[Bruce Yocum is President of Christ the King Association and a member of the International Executive Council of The Sword of the Spirit. This article was originally published in New Covenant Magazine, December 1991.] 
| Home | April 2007 Issue | Archives | The Sword of the Spirit |

(c) copyright 2007  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
email: editor@swordofthespirit.net